Dangers of HCG Diets

Some Alternative Doctors Recommend The HCG Diet—But Here’s Why You Should Stay Away
By: Dr. Robert Jay Rowen of Second Opinion – March 2011

A friend just asked me if I would help her lose weight with HCG. Once, this now popular treatment had gone the way of pet rocks and 8-track tapes.

But the HCG diet has made a comeback. Doctors’ offices are offering and promoting it. I’ll admit I used the approach in Alaska about 20 years ago. It was a sort of craze then! I didn’t do it for long. My experience matched what the formal studies found—zilch benefit. The plan didn’t work in the long run. So I stopped using it rather than take money from my patients for a temporary Band-Aid approach at best. Here’s why.

HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin. It’s the hormone the placenta makes. While a pregnant woman’s body makes the hormone, you can’t find it anywhere in human physiology outside of pregnancy. Women know they are pregnant if they have HCG in their urine. That’s why pregnancy tests are so accurate.

In 1930, British physician A.T.W. Simeons found success treating children with injections of HCG for a syndrome consisting of delayed puberty and obesity. He gathered the HCG from the urine of pregnancy women. Simeons decided to evaluate if HCG could treat simple obesity. He reported that appetites of the obese decreased, and the circumference of their hips and waists also decreased, though they did not lose weight. Simeons presumed that the hormone directed the body to lose these expendable fat stores. He figured if he then restricted calories, that the HCG would direct rapid fat burning from newly deposited sources and spare muscles.

He developed a diet that was essentially fat free and only 500 calories. Over the next 20 years, he followed 500 patients on this diet, who also got a daily shot of HCG. In 1954, he published a report in the Lancet that his patients lost 20-30 pounds in just 40 days on this regimen. And, that 70% of them were able to remain on the low-calorie diet without stress or excessive hunger. He credited the hormone for this.

Over the next few years, other doctors found similar results. But then, researchers conducted the acid test. These researchers began to rigorously compare HCG injections to placebo while on the calorie-restricted diet. They found no gain from HCG injections over placebo.

In 1959, sharp Israeli researchers, placed 45 patients on Simeon’s diet. They gave half HCG and half saline injections. Both groups lost weight at the same rate, and all participants complained of hunger, weakness, or constipation. Two U.S. studies shortly after confirmed the Israeli findings and all three studies soon appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the decades that followed, scientists have not been able to show that HCG adds anything to a weight-loss program.

I read the materials on HCG in the 1980s when I got into alternative medicine. I thought it might be worth a try since obesity was rampant in Alaska. Perhaps orthodox doctors were slamming a worthy treatment. I tried it for about four months. I found that if it worked at all, the weight loss was temporary at best. It was clear to me then that it was the diet that did the job, not the hormone. What’s more, the hormone currently costs up to $600 for a month’s supply.

So I can understand why the docs might want to try it on their patients. Even I tried it on mine! And all I did was confirm what the Israeli and two American studies found. That’s why I abandoned HCG in the 1980s.

Now, to be fair, I did observe weight loss on the diet! But that diet is a virtual starvation diet, and a low-fat diet. I’ve been saying for years that a very low-fat diet encourages weight loss. In this case, not only was it low fat, but only 500 calories per day. All you have to do for incredible weight loss results is modify this diet by increasing the calories to a number which is 10 times your desired weight in pounds (1500 calories for 150 pounds). Keep to the Living Foods Diet, which is naturally very low fat if you don’t go overboard on nuts, seeds, etc.

Finally, I have one additional concern. HCG will make your body think that it’s pregnant. Pregnancy will tone down your immune system. Why? The fetus is foreign to the mom. The trophoblast part of the placenta invades her uterus like a cancer until about 20-weeks gestation. HCG may play a role in deadening mom’s immune attach on the foreign fetal tissue. If real cancer is present in someone using HCG, the hormone could possibly impair the immune system enough to allow the cancer to grow unchecked. We just don’t know. We do know that many cancers secrete HCG. Could this be the cancer’s w ay of deceiving the immune system?

HCG is not BHRT (bio-identical hormone replacement therapy). In that therapy, you take hormones with the exact chemical structure of your own gonadal hormones to replace the diminishing amount your organs make with aging. BHRT definitely has a place. But, HCG has only one purpose: pregnancy.

And it may have other damages. I’ve looked into, and have seen reports of women getting breast lumps on HCG treatment.

My take on it? I know that some clinics promote HCG. Some of these are alternative professionals in my home state. Here’s one rather rare disagreement I have with them. I consider HCG on par with allopathic medicine—trying to suppress a symptom with a chemical (though hormone, in this case). Here, they use a hormone as an appetite-suppressing drug, or a drug to remodel fat deposition. I think it’s better to treat the cause. Since a woman’s body makes HCG only during pregnancy (and a man’s body never makes it), HCG deficiency CANNOT be the cause of obesity.

Save your money, time, and possible side effects of HCG. I think that most patients will be very disappointed in this fad treatment in the long run. Regardless of the ineffectiveness of the HCG itself, as soon as you go off the diet you will regain weight, unless you have made permanent changes in your lifestyle. On the other hand, stick to the Living Food Diet. I believe that not only will you not have any weight problem, but you will be far healthier overall.